Role of Circus People: in the Novel Hard Times

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Disparity between the Circus Men and the Utilitarians

      We first meet Mr. Sleary’s circus through Cecilia Jupe (Sissy). She is the daughter of a circus clown who deserts her in the circus feeling himself no more capable of amusing audience to amuse the audience. He leaves her to her destiny. Though this action of Sissy's father is unforgivable yet overall we make a good impression of the circus people. They are used by the novelist in contrast to the utilitarian educationist and industrialist, represented in Hard Times, Bounderby and Gradgrind.

Their Sense of Community

      The general feature of the people of circus is thus interpreted by the novelist. “There was a remarkable gentleness and childishness about these people, a special in-aptitude for any kind of sharp practice, and an untiring readiness to help and pity one another, deserving often of as much respect, and always of as much generous construction, as the everyday virtues of any class of people in the world.” The circus people entirely deserve this kind of interpretation. The most glaring example to justify the point is Sissy who has been deserted by her father. The response of all the circus people is same. They all react sharply to Bounderby’s disrespect in talking about the activities of Sissy’s father (when Bounderby bluntly says to Sissy’ that her father has abandoned her). Few members of circus troupe murmur the words “shame” and “brute”. There lies protest of them against Bounderby’s manner of talking to an unhappy girl, Sissy. Mr. Sleary even says that though his people are kind-hearted yet they can go to the extent of throwing him out of the window if he speaks in such pitiless manner to the young girl, Sissy. Later, after being grown up when Sissy visits these persons, they all surround her with happiness, love and affection. They ask several questions about her welfare. In brief a sense of community envelops all the circus people. They have harmony and they are knitted to one another not only by the thread of their job but also by the human sympathy which has not been erased by the principle of “Facts” among the utilitarian people. These circus people represent natural impulses which have not been spoilt by the utilitarian principles of the contemporary age.

Bounderby Depreciated by Two Members of the Circus

      The people of circus are so simple and sympathetic that they neither make nonsense nor insult anyone. When Bounderby talks to Mr. Childers and Master Kidderminster in a egoistic and self important manner, they both answer bluntly. Master Kidderminster feels even more resented than his superior. Mr. Childers and his assistant do not feel debased or impressed by the wealth of Bounderby. They find Gradgrind more reasonable kind of person. Childers avoids Bounderby to the extent that he does not exist for him. He pays full attention to Gradgrind to give an account of the causes why Sissy’s father has deserted circus. In this scene we get a blend of pathos lies in the distress of circus-clown and the comedy aroused by the depreciation of Bounderby by Master Kidderminister and Mr. Childers.

Mr. Sleary a Sympathetic Man

      Mr. Sleary is the owner of the circus and he undoubtedly has a very kind-heart. He is indeed a skilful organizer. If Gradgrind does not wish to take Sissy and give her protection, Mr. Sleary would himself have taken care of Sissy and look after her upbringing. He is expected to provide Sissy with his best. He feels in himself a father’s love for Sissy, that is in contrast to the Bounderby’s coldness towards her.

The Vital Role of Circus People

      Besides contributing an ideal specirtien of womanhood (Sissy) to the novel’s story; the circus people’s role in the novel, is vital. Mr. Sleary so tactfully handles Bitzer that he succeeds in resuming Tom from any legal consequences. Bitzer is cheated by Mr. Sleary who pretends to favor him and taking interest in presenting Tom to Bbunderby who is a bank robber. But in the way Bleary’s trained horse and dog stops Bitzer from following his purpose. Meanwhile Tom is given an opportunity to rescue from Bitzer’s grip.

Mr. Sleary Nothing Mercenary About Him

      There is nothing mercenary about Mr. Sleary when Gradgrind offers him a good amount of money in return to all the services rendered to Tom. Mr. Sleary refuses to accept the offer. He becomes ready to accept only five-pound note for Mr. Childers who is a carriage driver, a collar for dog, a set of bells for the horse, some refreshment for the circus family and a little brandy and water for himself.

The Philosophy of Mr. Sleary

      Mr. Sleary’s philosophy of life is well summed up in the following sentences stated to Gradgrind. “Don’t be cross with us poor vagabonds. People must be amused. They can’t be always a— learning, nor yet they cannot be always a—working; they aren’t made for it. You must have us Square. Do the wise thing and the kind thing too, and make the best of us, not the worst.” Indeed Mr. Sleary is lisping. What he is intended to say is that circus plays a vital role in the lives of common people who, besides learning and working require some changes also. The philosophical ideas are uttered by Mr. Sleary in the very beginning and he speaks about it now at the end. It seems, he has something more important to speak out as it is suggested through the passage spoken by him when he talks about the death of dog which was the pet of Sissy’s father.

Their Humorous Nature

      The portraiture of the circus troupe increases the variety of characterization in the novel. Simultaneously it presents a contrast to the utilitarian educationists and the statistician projected by Bounderby and Gradgrind. Moreover, these circus people are the sources of noteworthy humor also. Humour is produced even though the lisping manner of Mr. Sleary; through the behavior of Mr. Childers and his short assistant through the style of making Tom rescue and prevent Bitzer from carrying out his purposes by the help of trained horse and dog. Mr. Sleary’s garrulous talk produces comedy besides his lisping manner. It is also humorous to learn that Mr. Sleary is found in the state of neither drunk nor serious.

      A critic A.H. Gomme has well observed the circus and its function in the novel in the following lines, “At the other end Sleary’s circus has a similarly representative function in the novel, though it too is active in the plot. Like Sissy who is one of them, the people of the circus stand at the extreme of uncalculating, spontaneous human, affection, though innocent of anything that would pass for learning with Gradgrind. Superficially they are not very attractive; there is brusque insolence and assumption of superiority about Childers and especially Kidderminster (albeit a suitable reaction to Bounderby’s bullying roughness); and Sleary himself is described in terms which seems to promise the worst:

      ‘A stout man with one fixed eye and one loose eye, a voice (if it can be called so) like the efforts of a broken pair of bellows, a flabby surface, and a muddled head which was never sober and never drunk.’

      The circus is not glamourized, but neither is Dickens misled by superficial appearances, nor allows us to be. The qualities of Sleary that matter are not his asthmatic, boozy ugliness, but his unwavering uprightness and gratitude. Dickens sees him vividly as a person, with his roundabout approach to any subject and his suddenly and briskly coming to the point. And there is an irresistible rightness in his coming to deliver the formal moral: “It seems to present two things to a person, don’t it, Squire?” said Sleary musing as he looked down into the depths of his brandy-and-water one, that there is a love in the world, not all self interest after all, but something very different, the other, that it has a way of its own of calculating or not calculating which somehow or another is at least as heard to give a name to as the way of the dogs is.” The moyal of the story is dramatized throughout in the complex interaction of plot and character.

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